While Catholics and others throughout the world were shocked by the news of Pope Benedict’s resignation, I was impressed. I was impressed because on the basis of his “failing strength of mind and body,” he made what appears to be an objective and courageous decision that is in the best interest of the organization he serves. In his words, “I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
A more cynical view might be that he recognized he could not bear the weight of the role any longer and he just had to step down. Specifically, that given his failure as a leader, the Catholic Church is in much worse shape than it was when he ascended to the papacy in 2005. Many would point to how his rigid, traditionalist theological stance has done more to divide Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Further, many would fault his leadership given allegations of corruption within the Vatican, its bank’s failure to comply with international rules governing money laundering, and surely its controversial handling of clerical sex-abuse scandals in the United States and other countries.
Layer on top of these complex issues is what some consider to be both a myopic and misogynist view of the role women play – or mostly do not play – in the Catholic clergy and this is a leader who has to be in a high degree of psychological, as well as physical distress.
On the plus side, the Pope’s defenders would say Benedict was unfairly savaged by the media for actions that predated his tenure. They would also applaud his management of scandals – including an official apology in 2010 to Catholics in Ireland for the clerical sex-abuse of children in that country. And they would hail his decision to resign as a manifestation of his generosity and good will. Whatever it is – and surely it is multi-determined – it triggers a pivotal leadership contest. Who will succeed Pope Benedict XVI?
As the Vatican hastens to assemble its papal conclave – with the expectation of selecting the next Pope by Easter (March 31st), let’s consider the stark contrast between the mysterious white smoke (and mirrors?) succession process of the Catholic cardinals to that of corporate boards of directors charged with selecting CEOs of global companies. The latter are based on the scrutiny of candidates’ records of accomplishments, as well as the extent to which they possess necessary leadership competencies, leadership behaviors, and the readiness to meet the business imperatives at the time of the succession.
Let’s suppose for just a hopeful moment or two that a process akin to that of corporate CEO succession would drive the selection of the next Pope. Specifically, that the consideration of its best papal candidate would be driven most by his ability to truly lead. In other words, what’s the new pope’s potential for pulling together his fractionated flock by addressing in a fully transparent manner the compelling issues and challenges before it? Can he resuscitate the church? Can he ignite its appeal for the hundreds of thousands of worshippers who have drifted away in the wake of its seeming unresponsiveness and irrelevance to progressive thinking faithful throughout the world?
Let’s imagine that the papal conclave’s decision will be guided by a set of leadership competencies and behaviors – and that it will remain mindful of the over-arching papal readiness questions cited above. As in comprehensive CEO succession processes, here’s at least some of what they would be discussing:
Vision – Will he be able to set a compelling vision of the church’s future, a vision that is responsive to secular tides of both criticism and opportunity?
Global Perspective – How focused and integrative will he be regarding key factors for leading effectively and forming relationships in a global world?
Bias for Action – How quickly will he step up to and get real traction on resolving major challenges within the Church currently?
People Management – How effective will he be in assembling and using a staff of trusted advisors?
Courage – Does he possess the courage necessary to lead the Church through this time of erosion in Europe and America – and, to leverage its growth in Asia and Latin America?
Driving Change - Will he maintain a traditional stance in matters of both theology and leadership, or will he be more progressive thus influencing change that will foster global growth of the church?
Empathic Resonance - Will he be attuned and responsive to the spiritual needs of others – especially those who are alienated from the Church?
Charisma – Can he evoke widespread, fervent devotion to and enthusiasm for the Church?
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